Transcript US State Department Daily Briefing
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
Daily Press Briefing Index
Wednesday, December 1, l999
Briefer: James P. Rubin
STATEMENT 1 Ireland Joins NATO's Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council and Partnership for Peace
MEXICO 1-2, Investigation of Mass Graves / Responsibility and Brutality of Narco-Traffickers / Question 15 for Certification / Involvement of Mexican Officials in Narcotics Trafficking / Waiver Criteria
WTO (SEATTLE) 2-3 Secretary's View on Protests; Bilateral Mtgs; Prepared Remarks /Visa Not Requested by Castro 5-6 Trade Relations With India and China / China's Importance in WTO
MIDDLE EAST PEACE PROCESS 3-4 Secretary's Trip / Focus on Agreed Framework / Israel and CTBT 8-9 Significance of Saudi Arabia as Secretary's First Stop
CAMBODIA 5 Status of US Embassy
RUSSIA 6 Chechnya: Russia-Iran Talks / US Position / Not Replacing OSCE Mission 9-10 US View of Radical Islamic Groups / US-Russia Efforts on Terrorism Sphere 7-8 Status of US Diplomat Detained for Espionage / Amb Collins Summoned to Foreign Ministry
IRAQ 6-7 Tariq Aziz's Travels Seeking Lifting of Sanctions / Oil-for-Food Resolution / Secretary's Phone Calls re Resolution
KUWAIT 8 Political Rights for Women
ISRAEL 8-9 Chinese Officials' visit to AWACS Facility / Congress Threatens Aid
SERBIA (KOSOVO) 9 Allegations of Missing USAID Money
BICYCLE TRAVELERS 10 Thanks to State Dept & Americans for Support in US
AFGHANISTAN 10-11 Assessment of Sanctions Against Taliban / Continues to Harbor Terrorists
LIBYA 11-12 Cooperation on PanAm #103 Trial / Steps Taken to Lift Sanctions / Full Compliance Required
SUDAN 12-13 Criticism of US Food Aid Motives / Criteria for Provision of US Aid
NORTH KOREA 12-13 Future Bilateral Talks / Resumption of Berlin Talks / Visit by Former PM of Japan
PANAMA 13-14 Hong Kong Companies Contracts to Run Ports
NIGERIA 14 Shoot-to-Kill Orders / Ethnic Violence Continues
BURUNDI 14 Nelson Mandela Named Special Envoy
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE DAILY PRESS BRIEFING DPB # 146 WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 1, 1999, 12:40 P.M. (ON THE RECORD UNLESS OTHERWISE NOTED)
MR. RUBIN: Greetings. Welcome to the State Department briefing. A nearly on-time performance. We have one statement on Ireland's joining the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council and the Partnership for Peace, and that statement will be distributed after the briefing. We welcome that accession of Ireland to the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council and the Partnership for Peace.
With that opening, let me go to your questions.
QUESTION: The Mexico story. Any further word today on how many Americans there might have been and who they might be?
MR. RUBIN: There really isn't any more detail on that. Beyond saying that this is a horrific discovery, that it is another indication of the brutal and inhumane nature of some of these narcotics trafficking organizations, this is a particularly brutal example of how the killings can destroy families, lives; institutions are left in ruins; and the fact that these people would kill dozens of people and then leave their bodies in mass graves really underlines the base and barbarous nature of these kinds of narcotics trafficking organizations, and we hope will only make it more important and more effective in our cooperation to stop this kind of brutality.
So we don't have more details to provide with respect to individuals. What we do believe is that narcotics traffickers were behind it, and the FBI continues to work with Mexican authorities on any of the specifics.
QUESTION: The former head of the DEA has been saying in the last few days, though, when he presented information to the State Department and elsewhere in the administration that Mexican officials were continuing to be involved in some of this narco-trafficking, and that he was told that that certification of Mexico on narcotics is a broader issue and shouldn't focus exclusively on the actual narco issue. Can you respond to that?
MR. RUBIN: Yes. Former officials often say a lot of things. I know that makes it more fun for you; it makes it less fun for me. Let me say this: the issue in establishing the question of whether Mexico is cooperating is not the same as answering the question of whether Mexican officials may or may not have been involved in nefarious activities. We have gone over and over this and sometimes people don't seem to get it. There is a problem of corruption in Mexico. That is what we've been working on. The question for certification is: Are they cooperating? Has the president and the top levels of the Mexican society made a decision to cooperate. Is that cooperation real? That is the question for certification.
Even then, if there is - and the law permits this and it has been used on occasion - the decision is there hasn't been full cooperation, it can be waived precisely based on the national interest. That's what the law requires. So I think people are conflating the different judgments that have to be made. First, is it a major drug trafficking transshipment country; second, are they fully cooperating; and, third, if not, does the national interest still require us to continue with certain assistance. Each of those three questions is part and parcel of the statute.
So to say that the United States or any agency takes into account the national interest, that is required by the statute. To say that there are Mexican officials who somebody raised questions about, that others probably have questions about too, doesn't mean that Mexico isn't cooperating.
So what one needs to do is understand that this is a horrific problem. We and other agencies in the government work closely together to deal with it, but it's not simply a matter of one agency caring more than another agency. There is no agency that cares more than the State Department about the drug problem, no matter what former officials might say.
QUESTION: Change of subject?
MR. RUBIN: Sure.
QUESTION: You seem to be accepting the initial estimate that there may be hundreds or at least several dozen bodies buried around this ranch. As far as I've been reading, there has only been a couple of sets of remains.
MR. RUBIN: Right. Our assessment is that this is a mass grave. The details of that I would welcome your directing towards the FBI and as far as what they've found, what has been made public about what they've found, what indicators they have to expect additional bodies.
QUESTION: I realize that you don't usually comment on domestic things, but given the fact that the Secretary was unable to give her speech yesterday, I'm wondering if you might want to revise your remark yesterday about the protesters which you said, basically, "Welcome to America." This is kind of a fact of life here.
MR. RUBIN: By the way, I really appreciate you reminding me of that today. That was particularly kind and generous and thoughtful of you. It's certainly a deterrent to any humor in the briefing room, but let me answer the question.
At the time I made that remark, it was well before there was a shutdown of the streets of Seattle and well before the governor had to declare a civil emergency. The fact that I welcomed peaceful protests as part of an American tradition and part of a democratic society - this is a country that fights for the right for other countries to allow peaceful protests in China and other parts of the world, so we believe very strongly in the right to peaceful protest.
But as Secretary Albright said yesterday, when peaceful protest transforms itself into violence, that not only does a disservice to the protesters but does a disservice to the perception of the United States in the world. So Secretary Albright has expressed her regret to some of her colleagues. She certainly wished that she had been able to deliver her speech.
She was able to have a number of meetings in Seattle and Cedar Rapids, Iowa. In Seattle she met with a number of governors, representatives of labor, the farm community and the business roundtable. She had bilateral meetings with the Danish and Japanese foreign ministers. So a substantial portion of her work was completed. She wasn't able to deliver the address. The address was distributed to all the delegations and it is available to all of you.
Secretary Albright did express her apologies to the delegations for the inconvenience caused by those demonstrators who went beyond legitimate peaceful protest to violence and, thus, caused obvious difficulties in having the opening session begin.
QUESTION: Fidel Castro did not ask for a visa and so is, therefore, not coming. The Miami Herald reports than an unnamed person on the Cuba desk, in effect, warned him off, and it was written in the context of a la Pinochet that he may face legal troubles if he comes here. Can you comment on that?
MR. RUBIN: It was our view that had a visa request been put forward we would have acted on that request in the same way that we acted on the request of the dozens of other Cuban officials; namely, in an expeditious and efficient manner, and we would have provided a visa to Fidel Castro had he requested one.
With respect to what any lower level official may or may not have done, I'll have to check for you but, on the basic question would we have given him a visa, we would have.
QUESTION: There is a report this morning that Palestinians are hoping that the Secretary can help solve the dispute over Israeli transfer of land to the West Bank. Do you have any comments on that?
MR. RUBIN: Let me say, Secretary Albright is leaving for the Middle East on Sunday night. We will be traveling, as I indicated earlier in the week, to Saudi Arabia to visit with the leadership of the Palestinian Authority. She will be visiting Syria and obviously spending a substantial amount of time in Israel.
The purpose and focus of her visit is the fact that the deadline for achieving an Agreed Framework, that is February, is rapidly approaching. February is not that far away and there is an enormous amount of work to be done involving excruciatingly difficult and extraordinarily emotional issues - the so-called permanent status issues. So the purpose of her trip is to focus on that process and the need to get that process moving in such a way that the February time frame can be met.
With respect to other issues, the Secretary hopes that those issues are resolved between discussions between Israel and the Palestinians in the way they've been resolved in the past. That is our hope.
QUESTION: You said that Monday, though, that there hadn't been any visible signs. There wasn't any great hope for progress on this trip. And, now, the Palestinians seem to be saying that they are waiting for her to come to help break the deadlock.
MR. RUBIN: Well, I think that only underscores the point I made on background after the briefing that this is an extraordinarily difficult process that requires us to work very hard at it, and that we don't have any exaggerated expectations about moving the ball forward.
QUESTION: Somewhat on the same topic. The Palestinians are now demanding that Israel sign the CTBT as part of the security. Is this the kind of thing that the US thinks should be coming into play here.
MR. RUBIN: Israel and the CTBT, let me seek guidance on that question. Certainly, we want - I think they have, but I'll have to check that. I know the countries that haven't - the prominent countries include Pakistan and India.
QUESTION: Maybe the nonproliferation --
MR. RUBIN: There may be another treaty, but let me check that for you, and if I made a mistake about Israel's signature - and I'll get to your question if you can just let me get there. I'll check on the details of Israel's consideration of the CTBT and other nonproliferation treaties.
You know, everyone is entitled to their opinion as to what Israel should and shouldn't do. We're not one that opposes people having opinions on something like an international treaty, or should one sign it or not. But what we think that the business that needs to be focused on between Israel and the Palestinians is not only resolving the problems related to implementation of the Sharm el-Sheik Agreement but also beginning the hard and excruciating work of making decisions that will enable us to achieve the peace that the people of Israel and the Palestinians want. That can't be helped by distractions of issues that are not related, but that doesn't mean that people aren't entitled to their opinion on the fundamental question about the signing of a treaty.
QUESTION: You prefer to have it not be linked to --
MR. RUBIN: Certainly, linkages like that would be unprecedented in what we've been working on.
QUESTION: Do you have anything more on the security situation at the US embassy and other government facilities in Cambodia?
MR. RUBIN: Let me say on that we do continue to assess the credibility of the threat that has existed - that we have been made aware of.. There have been a number of meetings by the embassy about this issue and they are of the view - and we concur - that, consistent with the credibility of the threat, several prudent security measures will continue to be in place, including that the embassy remain open with reduced staffing but providing emergency services to American citizens; that American citizens seeking non-emergency services should call the embassy for further information.
We continue to assess the security situation very carefully at the embassy and we have received excellent cooperation from the Cambodian Government on security for our diplomatic facilities in Phnom Penh.
QUESTION: Are you pleased also with their level of investigation into --
MR. RUBIN: Well, cooperation is normally a term of art being that we're working together with them. We believe they're working on the problem as well. I don't think in a case like this - you know, you can always find some law enforcement official who wants - and justifiably desires - even more. But as far as generally speaking, we're satisfied with the cooperation.
QUESTION: Going back to WTO, most of the demonstrators, they are demonstrating against China and they are saying that anything you touch in the US is made in China but nothing when you go to China you touch anything also made in China. Now, also, Governor Bush said the other day that it's time for the US to pay more attention to India than China as far as trade and the US - the world's largest two democracies must work together.
Any comments on this briefly?
MR. RUBIN: Yes. On the second, I think you're quite aware of my policy on political discussions and commenting on every twist and turn in an election before there is even major candidates yet that have been selected by either of the parties. Generally speaking, I think we feel we have spent a great deal of time and energy working on the relationship with India and the relationship with China. They're both important relationships.
With respect to your first question, number one, I don't believe you're accurate in saying that the majority of the protesters are focused on the China question. My impression from talking to the Secretary, who was there, is that there are a wide variety of protesters making their views known about a wide variety of issues.
With respect to the China substance, the point you make is exactly why we want China in the World Trade Organization: because by lowering barriers to join the WTO, the United States will have a better opportunity to have goods and services sold in China. So those people who worry that there are too many products in the United States with the "Made in China" stamp should think about the fact that by joining the WTO, all the openings come on China allowing imports from the rest of the world, in particular the United States, and; thus, their concern could be best solved by developing a newfound enthusiasm for the World Trade Organization.
QUESTION: How does the US feel about Iran's stated intention today to lead an Islamic delegation for talks on Chechnya to Russia?
MR. RUBIN: Iran and Russia have had bilateral discussions before. There is nothing new about that. We have no view other than the view that our position on Chechnya remains the same, and that is that the Russian approach is one that profoundly troubles us. We do not think they have thought through the long-term consequences of their actions and we believe that they need to begin to formulate a way for a political solution to be found.
I don't know what specific mission the Iranian delegation is on. To the extent it's a humanitarian mission, we have been supportive generally of humanitarian support for the refugees and the displaced persons who are suffering so greatly as a result of the Chechen conflict, but I don't know the specifics of what they are intending to focus on.
QUESTION: They have apparently gotten permission to go to Chechnya. I am just wondering, could this possibly be a substitute for a replacement for the OSCE mission?
MR. RUBIN: No, it would most assuredly not be a substitute for the OSCE mission. We fully expect the Russians to implement the commitments made at the Istanbul Summit to permit a visit by Knut Vollebaek, the foreign minister of Norway. That visit must go forward and we expect the Russians to work out a way for it to go forward to the region.
QUESTION: On Tariq Aziz'visit to Moscow, it would seem that Iraq is not really any more excited about the extension idea than they were since he has now said that you can't do more in two weeks than buy a suit, a pair of shoes and sell some potatoes. So I wondered if you had any reaction to his visit?
MR. RUBIN: I think there is nothing new about Tariq Aziz tromping around the world pathetically seeking support for a position in which Iraq increasingly finds itself isolated in all over the world. The fact that he is indicating that Iraq wants to have sanctions lifted somehow magically without any focus on the fact that Iraq is required to meet the requirements of the Security Council resolutions, we have put forward what we think is a quite reasonable approach that would entail the unfettered return of inspectors, would entail the fulfillment of key disarmament tasks and that would entail the testing period for that work, and that would be sufficient to enable adjustments in the sanctions package.
That is a very reasonable proposal. It has the support of an increasingly large number of members of the Security Council. The fact that Iraq still believes that sanctions will magically disappear is only self-delusion on their part. In the meantime, with respect to the specific Oil for Food resolution, the point here is that if we can get action on the comprehensive resolution that deals with inspections, deals with the sanctions regime and deals with the Oil for Food program then we won't need to have constant roll-overs of the Oil for Food program.
With respect to what Tariq Aziz can and can't do in a two-week period, I am sure that his finely tailored suits - at the prices he's probably paid for them - were done quicker than two weeks. With respect to the Oil for Food program itself, there is plenty of oil and food and medicine in the pipeline and funds in the pipeline and we see no reason why the program itself need be interfered with.
QUESTION: Will the Secretary of State speak again to Ivanov on the issue of the resolution, and are we any closer to Russia falling in line with the -- (inaudible) - visit?
MR. RUBIN: Falling in line with?
QUESTION: With the resolution, with the rest --
MR. RUBIN: I would expect that Secretary Albright will have a number of conversations in the coming days on this resolution, including with the French foreign minister, the Russian foreign minister, the British foreign minister and others, because the issue has now reached beyond the kind of technical discussions that can be conducted by Under Secretary Pickering and Assistant Secretary David Welch with counterparts in New York and in various capitals, and it's now in the political realm.
My experience has been that decisions on a difficult question like this often require a large number of phone calls and consultations, so I would expect her to have continued discussion with Foreign Minister Ivanov about it; and if she's continuing to have discussions, you can therefore assume that the Russians have not - we don't expect the next phone call to be one in which everything is resolved.
QUESTION: But are you closer than you were before Aziz went to Moscow, or are you further away?
MR. RUBIN: I don't think there is a marked difference because I don't - first of all, let me say I don't know because she hasn't spoken to him since Tariq Aziz has been in Moscow. She didn't speak to him in the last couple of hours, and I wouldn't expect evolutions to occur in any dramatic, overnight kind of fashion.
QUESTION: Can you give us any update on the status of the American woman who was briefly detained in Moscow and sort of what's next and what the level of involvement is right now in the US end on this?
MR. RUBIN: The short-in answer to that is, no, I can't give you much of an update on that other than to say that the individual remains in Moscow and to indicate, as I did yesterday, that there was an incident that took place. I'm not going to comment on alleged intelligence matters.
QUESTION: Can you say whether Ambassador Collins has been summoned to the foreign ministry?
MR. RUBIN: He has not, as of now. I don't know what's expected. It's quite late already in Moscow.
QUESTION: Do you have anything on Kuwait, where women had another bad day?
MR. RUBIN: Yes. We fully support the expansion of political rights, including the extension of political rights to women. We, therefore, regret the decision by the national assembly not to expand political rights to women.
We believe that political rights for women are a fundamental component of democracy, which is precisely the reason why we will continue to support the extension of those rights. A true democracy requires the voices of all its citizens, men and women alike. Our commitment to Kuwait in the face of the continuing threat of Iraqi aggression remains firm. We do, however, view today's vote as a setback for democratic development, which is unfortunate. We, therefore, will continue our full support for expanding political participation, including full political rights for women.
Did I say today? I meant yesterday.
QUESTION: Two quick questions. In Israel this morning there is a report that Li Peng and his party are going to be visiting the AWACS facilities that Israel has developed and that the administration, backed by some members of Congress, are threatening aid to Israel if that visit takes place. Is there any truth to this?
And, secondly, the Secretary of State usually visits Saudi Arabia last, reporting in on whatever happens in Israel and the peace process. This time she's going first. Is she going to see the Crown Prince who has very close relations with Damascus, and does this mean that there is going to be a sort of "takeout double," in bridge terms, where she can get what she wants in Sharm el-Sheik and the Palestinians so she's going to open up the Damascus.
MR. RUBIN: That's a British term, isn't it? "Takeout double."
MR. RUBIN: It's a fake double of a bid in order to get your partner to raise to a higher level? Is that the kind of "takeout double" you're talking about?
MR. RUBIN: You all didn't know I knew how to play Bridge, did you?
QUESTION: Yes, you know your Bridge.
MR. RUBIN: With respect to the takeout double, Middle East Peace Process, turnaround, reverse-180 device for diplomatic developments, let me say that I think you are reading too much into the Secretary's putting Saudi Arabia at the beginning of the agenda. I think, if I am not mistaken, she did not go to Saudi Arabia on the last trip and so it is not always a situation where we go at the end to consult on what has happened.
Since we do have an important bilateral relationship with Saudi Arabia and the timing of the trip usually develops as a result of several factors, I wouldn't read that into it. Our discussions there will obviously include the Middle East Peace Process, but will also include regional issues like Iraq and the resolution now before the Council.
With respect to your first question, I'm not aware of the details of any reported visit nor any particular threats by US officials. My experience in these matters suggests to me before even commenting on an allegation like that I would want to check the newspaper, the reporter and then the facts.
QUESTION: Do you know anything about close to a million dollars in aid money to Kosovo going missing or an investigation into that?
MR. RUBIN: I'm aware that earlier this year the possibility of allegations regarding a particular contractor who was an employee of the International Rescue Committee were raised, and the Agency for International Development immediately turned the issue over to its Inspector General who is currently investigating this particular question.
QUESTION: Is that right - I mean, the amount? Do you have the amount of money that is allegedly missing?
MR. RUBIN: I wouldn't have a heart attack if that's the amount that you wrote.
QUESTION: Mr. Rubin, there are those in the Russian Government that say the Chechen rebels, the Islamic rebels, are the enemy of both Russia and the United States, which should make Russia and the United States allies. How would you respond to that -- these radical Islamic people?
MR. RUBIN: Well, there is certainly some truth in that statement. The fact is there are links between radical Islamic organizations and the rebels that operate in Chechnya - financial assistance, general support for their overall cause - and there is some substantial linkages that are troubling to us. That is why we have been quite clear in expressing understanding for Russia's need to prevent attacks by such organizations against lawful authorities; for example, in Ingushetiya early on.
So we are jointly working to combat globally the problem of terrorism. The United States and Russia work quite well imposing, with the support of other members of the Security Council and the United Nations, the sanctions on the Taliban as a result of its failure to turn over Usama bin Ladin, and we and Russia worked on a number of joint efforts in the terrorism sphere and will continue to do so.
There are real issues, and those that think Chechnya is a simple case of good guys versus bad guys are not thinking very clearly. Nevertheless, and having said that, we have been quite clear that we think the method, the means, and the scale and the indiscriminate nature of the Russian military attacks on civilians in Chechnya are deeply troubling and are not going to solve the problem and have severely harmed Russia's standing internationally.
QUESTION: Does the United States favor or support the Russian effort to capture the bandit element, the Islamic radicals?
MR. RUBIN: I don't intend to parse our position any more clearly than I have for some weeks now.
QUESTION: I heard some word of compliments from a family of three traveling on a bike around the world for peace, non-violence and unity. Just before coming here, I met them in Washington and they have said and told me to tell you that they are very thankful to the State Department and also the US embassy in Singapore who provided them a complementary visa for the US. And they asked me that if you have a word of encouragement and they are thankful to also Americans who are very, very helpful in supporting wherever they are going and traveling on bikes in the US.
MR. RUBIN: Well, thank you for that question. Let me say that, speaking for myself, the idea of strenuous physical exercise - biking, long distance biking - are all important and substantially significant exercises that I think I could convince the State Department to take a formal position in support of. But having not checked, let me go back to the experts and see whether that kind of dramatic statement of policy is possible by the time of the next briefing. Personally, I offer them the fullest possible encouragement.
QUESTION: Back to Islamic fundamentalism, the sanctions against the Taliban have now been in effect for a few weeks. I wonder if you want to offer us any kind of assessment?
MR. RUBIN: Sanctions have never been an instrument that lead to an instant accomplishment of their objectives. If you look around the world at the sanction regimes that have worked, they have taken time. We have carefully targeted these sanctions to avoid any unnecessary impact on the civilian population in Afghanistan. There is no prohibition on food and medicine and many other goods. They merely target those enterprises that are controlled by the elite, the Taliban, and not the people of Afghanistan and so that is the Ariana Airlines and a number of bank accounts.
So we don't expect that sanctions like these are going to be a quick fix and they have not obviously been a quick fix, but we believe that they are the appropriate tool. Targeted the way the are on specific enterprises that the leadership benefits from, we believe they are the right course of action considering that Afghanistan still continues to harbor - and the Taliban continue to harbor - an internationally wanted terrorist who is responsible for the murder of Kenyans, Tanzanians, and hundreds of American citizens.
QUESTION: I just wonder if there is any chance that there would be any further meetings with the sanctions in place with the Taliban. Secondly, there are those within the country, citizens who are saying this is having a reverse effect: we are now less and less inclined to turn over this man and he is becoming more of a hero.
MR. RUBIN: Right. People always say that. Every time we put sanctions in place, you can find somebody to say, "This makes the situation worse." The problem with those arguments is the situation was already worse, and those people never showed any reason for us to believe that the objective was going to be met in the absence of sanctions. That applies in the case of Iraq and Libya and a number of other parts of the world. The people who don't like the sanctions always try to discourage us by saying that it makes the situation worse.
Usama bin Ladin is already quite well known in this part of the world. We have not made him more well known. If the Taliban made the decision to harbor this internationally wanted terrorist, they knew what they were getting into. There was no indication prior to the imposition of the sanctions that the Taliban were going to do what the Security Council of the United Nations wanted and demanded. That is why the sanctions were put in place.
As far as them less likely to turn him over now than they were before, there is no reason to think that before they were likely to turn him over, so it is a false comparison by those you are citing.
QUESTION: Also on sanctions, I wonder if you have an assessment of how well Libya is cooperating on the PanAm 103 trial. As I recall, that is one of the major items in the US's consideration of sanctions relief.
MR. RUBIN: Well, the trial continues. I don't think it would be appropriate for me to give a running commentary of the activities given that it is an illegal exercise and people would not want to have that done. We are watching Libyan behavior very carefully and we have acknowledged that Libya has made a number of statements of intent to change its behavior. There have been some positive steps, including turning over the suspects, the expulsion of certain terrorist organizations and the support for Chairman Arafat that has existed.
Nevertheless, we continue to have concerns and we will continue to insist on full Libyan compliance with the requirements of the Security Council which include ending support for terrorism and cooperating, as you asked about with the PanAm 103 trial and payment of appropriate compensation. The trial itself doesn't start until February and we will have to see how the developments occur when the court and the prosecutors begin their work in greater earnest.
QUESTION: I have a question about the change in law regarding US food aid. The Sudanese government said today that it would consider it an act of war if the US supplied food aid to the rebels there. I am just wondering if you can react to that statement and also comment on the likelihood of the US giving food aid to the rebels.
MR. RUBIN: Well, with respect to the Sudanese government's comment, let me say the Sudanese government has been engaged in a war against its own people, and the idea that they would criticize anyone else for trying to help deal with the mass starvation and deprived conditions of the people of Sudan is ridiculous in the extreme. It is as a result of the intransigence of the Sudanese government that millions of people are dead.
We have spent a billion dollars in providing food aid to the people of Sudan because of the starvation that has occurred and the massive human rights abuses, and we will continue to do what we think is best because the Sudanese government refuses to do what's best for its own people and has shown callous disregard for millions and has refused to pursue the peace process seriously that could bring an end to this tragic conflict.
With respect to the question of whether we will provide food aid, I think it's fair to say that we have now received authority to do so from Congress. We will have to weigh the various factors and make a decision as to what would be best for the people of Sudan, and the views of the government of Sudan in that regard are not particularly useful because they have shown no interest in putting the interest of the people of Sudan at the top of their list.
So our judgment will be based on what we think is the best way to help protect civilian population from attacks from the Sudanese government forces and the militia supported by the government. It will be based on determining whether providing such aid would compromise the neutrality of relief organizations and, if it would, how could one mitigate that effect. It will be based on assessing the accountability for any food aid provided to the Sudanese opposition, and it will be based on assessing what is the best way and determining what is the best way to increase the incentives for the Sudanese government to negotiate a comprehensive peace agreement - something they have refused to do and have allowed this terrible tragedy to go on without any regard for its own people.
QUESTION: Do you have any time frame for that decision?
MR. RUBIN: I wouldn't be able, really, to give you that. The legislation was just signed into law not probably two days ago, if my memory serves me, so that is a little fast for government work.
QUESTION: The North Koreans have threatened to break off talks. Again, I'm just wondering if you're at all concerned by this latest outburst of bombast or whether you think this is just business as usual?
MR. RUBIN: Let me just correct one point in case I left the wrong - the millions who have died have died from starvation, and my point was that the government of Sudan has not negotiated seriously a peace agreement without - if they had done so, this terrible food problem would not have caused that starvation.
Sorry. Please ask your question again. My mind was in another continent.
QUESTION: The North Koreans have threatened to break off talks with the US once again. I'm just wondering if you're concerned at all by that.
MR. RUBIN: I am obviously aware of the report. We have no reason to believe that North Korea is going to discontinue the path we have been pursuing and exploring with them together in the recent talks in Berlin. We have no reason to believe that this particular remark means that that will not go forward. The particular substance in the remark is not something the North Koreans have raised with us privately.
So we understand that the purpose of US and South Korean forces on the Peninsula is deterrence, and that remains unchanged, and we have not changed our view and our commitment to pursue through dialogue the objective of greater peace and stability in North Korea.
QUESTION: Do you expect an early resumption of the Berlin talks?
MR. RUBIN: I don't have a date for you. We are pursuing that question through the New York channel to reconvene the talks as soon as possible.
QUESTION: Japanese former Prime Minister Murayama has been visiting North Korea and have had talks with North Korean officials. Do you have anything?
MR. RUBIN: I don't have any information on that. The prospect of Japan and South Korea in coordination with the United States working to promote dialogue as a way to resolve problems is something we've been doing very well. I just don't have any specific information on that visit of a former prime minister.
QUESTION: Yes, thank you. I am from La Prensa of Panama and I have a question about the Panama Canal. It seems that President Clinton said yesterday with regard to the Canal that, "I think the Chinese will in fact be bending over backward to make sure that they run it in a competent and able and fair manner."
This is troubling to Panamanians because it would seem to indicate the United States is now accepting that China is in a position to run the Canal whether it be efficient or in any other way. Up until now, the US position had been the fact that a Hong Kong Company was running some ports adjacent to the Canal posed no threat of the Chinese actually taking over the Canal.
MR. RUBIN: I think you should encourage those Panamanians not to worry. Nothing has changed. I have been in touch with the White House in the last 24 hours and the point the President was making is the same point that we're making here; that there are two Hong Kong-based companies that have contracts to run the ports - not run the Canal, not the lochs, not the other aspects of the Canal, just the ports-and that the President was presumably using shorthand to describe the claim that's been made.
But there is no reason to think that our view has changed. The President, as far as I know, shares the view that what he was saying was merely shorthand for the Chinese-based companies - that is, the Hong Kong-based companies - that will run the ports.
There is nothing new here. I know that a change of word here often causes people to raise their eyebrows. I have changed words from time to time, myself, that have raised eyebrows, but there is no new policy, no new view, no new concern, no new shift. There is nothing new here.
QUESTION: I got two questions on Africa. One, do you have any reaction to Nelson Mandela being named the mediator for the Burundi situation; and, two, recently the Secretary was in Nigeria hailing it and its new president, Obasanjo, as great democrats. I am just wondering if there is any reaction to Obasanjo's shoot-to-kill orders issued for members of one opposition group?
MR. RUBIN: I think on the second one you have misstated my understanding of the facts, but I will check that again for you. We are aware that there has been rioting and ethnic violence that has occurred in communal clashes. We are monitoring the situation very closely. It is correct that President Obasanjo stated on national television that those resisting arrest would be fired on. This is a civil disorder of a first order. We are trying to understand precisely what it is they intend to do or to find out what the orders will be. We strongly urge the government of Nigeria to continue its efforts to defuse tensions and urge President Obasanjo and the government of Nigeria to continue to seek peaceful solutions through reconciliation.
For those of you who were on the trip, you know Nigeria is an extraordinarily complex place with a variety of major, major problems. We don't think it is possible for anyone, whether we hail them as a great democrat or not, to solve every problem in a way that we would want them to be solved in the West overnight. This is an extraordinarily difficult problem and we have great support for him in trying to overcome a very long history of abuse and corruption. That does not mean that we are not going to ask questions about things like this, but I don't think it casts doubt, as your question implied, on the credentials of President Obasanjo's attempt to deal with such an enormously complex situation.
With respect to another country in Africa, let me say that we would certainly support Nelson Mandela's appointment into this extraordinarily difficult task. We are aware of the communique that names him as the Special Envoy, but we are not aware yet that Nelson Mandela or his office has confirmed his intention to accept this position. In principle, we would, of course, support his appointment.
QUESTION: Going back to Juarez, to the exhumations, I would ask this question: What do the murders in Juarez say about narco-trafficking as very ruthless and a danger to the security of the United States?
MR. RUBIN: I think at the beginning of the briefing in the first question I addressed that directly and said about the brutality of the narco-traffickers and the fact that they would be loading people in mass graves tells us a lot about their disdain for human life and the danger that the pose both to the people in Mexico and the people of the world.
QUESTION: And the people of the United States specifically?
MR. RUBIN: Yes.
(The briefing concluded at 1:30 P.M.)